Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: The book Go Ask Alice was the real-life diary of a teenage girl.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2001]
Origins: Drugs were on the minds of everyone in the late 1960s and early 1970s, even those who weren't partaking of illegal substances or harboring plans to ever do so. Paternalistic concern about the burgeoning drug culture led to the youth of that day being heavily indoctrinated with anti-drug propaganda at almost every turn — particularly in school, where they were subjected to health classes which were little more than "don't get high" lectures. Even the selection of recreational reading materials intended for them was booby-trapped with literary offerings purporting to be true life stories of real kids yet which were no more than "This is what could happen to you" sermonizings.
The most famous of these literary works was 1971's Go Ask Alice, presented as the diary of an anonymous teen girl who began her career as a stoner at
The unnamed girl's descent into the horrors of the drug world culminates with her death. The book closes with this epilogue:
The subject of this book died three weeks after her decision not to keep another diary.Did she commit suicide? Did she take an accidental overdose? Did vengeful stoner kids return one more time to slip her a deadly dose? Or was the unnamed deceased teen who supposedly kept a diary detailing the drug-strewn path she followed to her own destruction merely a figment of a moralizing writer's imagination?
Her parents came home from a movie and found her dead. They called the police and the hospital but there was nothing anyone could do.
Was it an accidental overdose? A premeditated overdose? No one knows, and in some ways that question isn't important. What must be of concern is that she died, and that she was only one of thousands of drug deaths that year.
Go Ask Alice was the product of Beatrice Sparks, an author who has come out with a number of "teens who saw their lives ruined by their bad choices" offerings, each one presented as a true story, often in the form of a diary of an anonymous teen:
Linda Glovach, since exposed as one of the "preparers" — let's call them forgers — of Go Ask Alice, has just written Beauty Queen, about a girl who flees her alcoholic mother, becomes a stripper and dies of heroin addiction.Our best guess is that a number of folks work at churning out these cautionary tales, which are then presented to an overly accepting public as real diaries of anonymous teens. Yet on the question of authorship, one thing is startlingly clear: whoever wrote the Go Ask Alice "diary" was not a
Girls of that age do not write the way the journal entries of Go Ask Alice are penned
The unnamed teen's fall is formulaic as well. The "unsuspecting first time" is a standard plot device used by writers looking to keep their main characters sympathetic. This gal's long slide into a pine box begins not with an actual intent to do drugs to see what all the shouting is about, but with an act of bad companions who introduce her to the world of drugs without her permission. Her fate thus becomes the potential fate of any teen, even one determined to "Just say no." To quote Mark Oppenheimer's musings about the structure of teen morality novels:
I'm going to write a young-adult novel about drug abuse. It's easy. I've read three and think I know how to do it: The narrator must feel oppressed by parents either distant, alcoholic or both; have a "shrink," who does no good whatsoever; get turned on to drugs unsuspectingly; run away from home; descend into prostitution or dealing; and think and write in bad coffee-shop stream-of-consciousness prose. Short, diary-entry chapters should begin or end with references to countercultural artists (Lewis Carroll, Jefferson Airplane, the Buzzcocks). At the end, a minor character assumes the narration to report the death of our previous narrator.Cynicism aside, that's a relatively fair assessment of how to build one of those works. We noted one further theme that jumped off the pages of Go Ask Alice: with the exception of the diarist, every teen in the book who was heavily involved with drugs and whose home situation was described came from a broken home. It was not difficult to pick out the underlying secondary moralistic message, that divorce is one of the great social evils of our time.
Another point to ponder: In an era when journalistic exposés are the coin of the realm, how is it that after more than thirty years (and "More than
The final proof, however, lies in plain sight on the book's copyright notice page:
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidentalIt's not necessarily wrong to present a cautionary tale in the form of a first-person narrative — that storytelling device has been used effectively as long as folks have been spinning yarns. But it is unfair to maintain that something is a "true story" when in fact it's manufactured hooey. There are enough real teens who lead short, tragic lives that we don't need to invent any more.
Barbara "through the looking glass" Mikkelson
Sightings: In Go Ask Alice, the 1973 made-for-TV film version of the book, William Shatner starred as the doomed girl's father.
Last updated: 4 January 2008
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